Syrians 'targeted journalists'
Syrian soldiers murdered war correspondent Marie Colvin after pledging to kill ''any journalist who set foot on Syrian soil'', it has been alleged.
The 55-year-old reporter for the British Sunday Times was killed alongside French photographer Remi Ochlik, 28, in a rocket attack on the besieged city of Homs yesterday.
They were two of at least 19 people killed yesterday by President Bashar al-Assad's forces.
Communications between Syrian army officers intercepted by Lebanese intelligence revealed that direct orders were issued to target the makeshift press centre from which Colvin had been broadcasting.
If journalists were killed, the Syrians were told to claim that they had died accidentally in firefights with "terrorists", the intercepted radio traffic revealed.
Just before she died, Colvin had appeared on numerous international networks, including the BBC and CNN, to accuse Assad's forces of murder.
Jean-Pierre Perrin, a journalist for Paris's Liberation newspaper, who was with Colvin in Homs last week, said they had been told the Syrian army was going to "deliberately" shell the press centre.
Perrin said: "A few days ago we were advised to leave the city urgently and we were told: 'If they [the Syrian army] find you, they will kill you'.
"I left the city with the journalist from the Sunday Times, but then she wanted to go back when she saw that the major offensive had not yet taken place."
Perrin, who headed to Beirut from Homs, said the Syrians were "fully aware" that the press centre was broadcasting direct evidence of crimes against humanity, including the killing of women and children.
"The Syrian army issued orders to 'kill any journalist that set foot on Syrian soil'," he said.
It was in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, that Perin received news of the intercepted Syrian army radio traffic.
The Syrians knew that, if they destroyed the press centre, there would be no more damning news out of Homs, said Perrin.
The centre had a limited electricity supply and internet access, thanks to a generator. This made it a "privileged location" compared with the rest of the devastated city, he said.
In her broadcasts on Tuesday night, Colvin accused the Syrian army of perpetrating the "complete and utter lie that they are only targeting terrorists". Describing what was happening as "absolutely sickening", Colvin said: "The Syrian army is simply shelling a city of cold, starving civilians."
Other sources in Damascus confirmed that Syrians, including senior army officers and Assad himself, would have been able to watch Colvin's broadcasts.
Syrian authorities, however, have claimed they were not aware that the journalists had entered the country.
Syrian Information Minister Adnan Mahmud said he had asked "specialised authorities in Homs to look for them [Colvin and Ochlik]".
"The ministry urges all foreign journalists who entered Syria illegally to report to the nearest immigration office to legalise their presence," he said.
Frederic Mitterrand, the French culture minister, said Colvin and Ochlik had been "targeted and tried to flee the bombardment".
Witnesses said they were killed as they fled the press centre.
Reporters working in Homs feared the army had "locked on" to their satellite phone signals and targeted the buildings the signals were coming from.